Hi Dr. Hemmings…
I believe that the issues you raise, concerning the Sabbath as expressed in the practice and experience of justice and love vs. a ritual observance, touches related, crucial issues within Adventism concerning its self understanding, and its reason for being. I also believe that one cannot broach this apart from a broader covenantal framework.
The Adventist resurrection of its own cherry picked version of old covenant membership badges (i.e. food laws and Sabbath) reveals a profound misunderstanding of what Paul was saying in a letter like Galatians concerning the temporary nature of the Torah as the covenant arrangement for the people of God, and the primacy of the new covenant promise as it related to the equal inclusion of Gentiles, and the obliteration of racial, gender and social inequalities, based on faith in Christ alone. This has helped to breed a culture of spiritually arrested development that promotes a ritualized religious climate, is divisive by nature, and makes non essentials of Christian faith, such as food laws and holy times, into life or death issues.
The triumphal self identification as the remnant church of bible prophecy, based on these and other related doctrinal badges, over against all other Christian groups, is divisive to the wider body of Christ, creating an exclusivity not in line with the truth of the gospel. It is founded on an eschatology that revolves around law, particularly the Sabbath, not inclusive grace. In the Adventist scenario, true Christians will be marked and identified in the end by Sabbath observance. The NT, however, states that love is the fulfillment of the law, and Christ says that his followers will be known by the inclusive, self giving love they have for one another, and identified as his at the judgement by the love they’ve shown for the poor, the outcast, and the needy…as you have stated. Thus, the Sabbath itself, even if understood beyond ritual observance, can only be a shadow of Christ and this type of relational and spiritual life and community that his Spirit brings to fruition, the real mark of the people of God.
With such a theological underpinning and a premium placed on disputable matters and doctrinal correctness, rather than an inclusive love and grace as its highest value, it is no wonder that the climate of the entire denomination is divisive, as evidenced by issues such as WO not being handled in true Christian freedom with genuine Christian charity. Somehow, this seems missing from the Adventist organizational DNA.
I believe real institutional and entire belief system reevaluation needs to happen in order for this to truly change. I’m not holding my breath.